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Illumina marks its 21st with genomic science celebration at new Granta Park HQ




Illumina celebrated its 21st anniversary in style yesterday, with a day focusing on genomics at its new Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) headquarters at Granta Park.

Attended by an array of leading scientists, academics, researchers and policymakers, the event was titled ‘Enabling the new possible in genomics’.

Illumina CEO Francis deSouza. Picture: Keith Heppell
Illumina CEO Francis deSouza. Picture: Keith Heppell

Among those present were Sir David Klenerman and Sir Shankar Balasubramanian, who told guests how they came up with the idea of genome sequencing, back on Lensfield Road in Cambridge, when they were graduates.

They established Solexa, a University of Cambridge spin-out, which was taken over by Illumina in 2007.

“Shankar thought that any company with a name with an X in it, like Xerox, had to be good and that’s how we came up with the name,” revealed Sir David.

They described how they invented the chemistry of sequencing by synthesis (SBS), which sits inside all Illumina sequencing equipment today and is used to for 80 per cent of the sequencing of the world’s genomes.

The technology has developed to the stage where the cost of sequencing a human genome has been driven down to around $1,000, from $1million in 2007.

Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian and Professor Sir David Klenerman, co-founders of Solexa. Picture: Keith Heppell
Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian and Professor Sir David Klenerman, co-founders of Solexa. Picture: Keith Heppell

Paula Dowdy, senior vice president and general manager of EMEA for Illumina, told guests: “We are proud and excited to host everybody today. In the audience we have scientists from industry and academia, entrepreneurs, innovators, customers, collaborators.

“We have visitors Israel, Russia, UAE, Europe, USA and Canada as well as the UK.

“It’s a celebration of the 21st birthday of Illumina, and we are also celebrating our wonderful new building which illustrates Illumina’s investment in Cambridge - the heart of DNA - and the region.

“This beautiful building has been designed to be as sustainable as possible and we’ve built it so that we’re able to host events such as this one today.

Paula Dowdy, SVP & GM, EMEA, at Illumina. Picture: Keith Heppell
Paula Dowdy, SVP & GM, EMEA, at Illumina. Picture: Keith Heppell

“In addition, every week, we welcome customers from all over Europe, the Middle East and Africa who want to understand how our sequencing technologies can best serve their research needs into our training labs, and we work with them to their optimise sequencing needs.”

She continued: “This amazing building is Illumina’s second largest site and over 40 per cent of our company’s global and R&D is done in the labs here. We have consolidated three Cambridge sites into one and we currently house over 500 employees.

“There are more than 1,000 employees across EMEA broadly. Cambridge attracts great talent to our growing employee base and this is foundational to our success.”

Illumina’s 21st anniversary at its new EMEA HQ at Granta Park. Picture: Keith Heppell
Illumina’s 21st anniversary at its new EMEA HQ at Granta Park. Picture: Keith Heppell

Francis deSouza, the CEO of Illumina, said: “Illumina’s mission hasn’t changed in 21 years, and that is to improve human health by unlocking the power of the genome.

“We fulfil that mission by enabling customers to decipher genetic code in all its manifestations.

“Over the past two decades, we have partnered with innovators and researchers around the world to drive a continuum of genomics advancements: from scientific discovery, to precision medicine, to population healthcare.

“The rate of progress has been astounding.For example, the first patient of CRISPR-based treatment in the US - Victoria Gray, who had sickle cell disease - just went home from hospital.

“We are living and working in tremendous times in terms of knowledge of the genome and being able to impact disease through this knowledge. We are just at the beginning.

“The more we sequence, the more we find, the more we can do, which leads to finding more… all to improve human health.”

The celebration of genomic science heard from leaders in their field, including Prof Sir Mark Caulfield, chief scientist at Genomics England, Prof Carlos Caldas, of the University of Cambridge and Prof Klaus Pantel, chairman of the Institute of Tumour Biology at the University of Hamburg, for talks spanning basic to translation research, the use of genomics in the development of medicines and the 100,000 Genomics Project, which paves the way for the NHS to become the first health service in the world to use whole genome sequencing as a clinical service.

‘Progress has been astounding... but we're only just getting started’

Illunina CEO Francis deSouza. Picture: Keith Heppell
Illunina CEO Francis deSouza. Picture: Keith Heppell

In their introduction to the anniversary celebration, Illumina’s CEO Francis deSouza, senior VP and general manager for EMEA Paula Dowdy and vice president and chief scientist David Bentley acknowledge the “astounding” rate of progress in genomics over the past two decade.

They write: “Today we celebrate 21 years of innovation in DNA, genotyping and genome sequencing.

“From the outset, we have focused on our mission to improve human health by unlocking the power of the genome. Our goal has always been to make it easy for our customers to decipher the genetic code in all its manifestations, enabling almost limitless applications and discoveries.

“We continue to create new tools to make the science possible. We now have the ability to sequence at an unprecedented scale, giving us a much deeper understanding of genetics than ever before.

“Over the past two decades, Illumina has partnered with innovators and researchers around the world to drive a continuum of genomics advancements: from scientific discovery, to precision medicine, to population healthcare. The rate of progress has been astounding.

“Together we have contributed to the growth of an entire genomics ecosystem which is on the verge of triggering a fundamental shift in human health. Every breakthrough opens up new avenues, and also shows us how much further there is yet to travel. We are proud to be a member of the genomics community and we believe we have only just begun to unlock the power of the genome.”

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